Poll: Armour and Energy Damage

There has been some considerable discussion in the Hit Points and Damage thread about whether armour should reduce the damage you take from energy attacks such as fireball. I am going to summarise those arguments here. You can vote in the poll at the bottom of the page.

Introduction

In HD&D Armour Class works like damage reduction did in third edition. You subtract the armour class value from the damage dealt before applying the damage to your foe. So if you strike an opponent for 20 damage, and they are wearing Plate Armour (AC 9), then they only take 11 points of damage.

Option One: Armour doesn’t defend against energy attacks

My intention was that armour class should only defend against physical attacks from weapons and other solid objects. The game already has Energy Resistance, which works in a similar way but protects against energy attacks such as Fire, Electricity, Thunder, Radiance and so on.

If we allow armour to protect you against a fireball as well as sword swing then we are in danger of making armour too good in the context of the game. It also weakens energy resistance. A tiefling starts with Fire Resistance as one of his class traits. What’s the point if anyone can also get fire resistance by putting on some chain-mail?

D&D has never allowed armour to do this in the past, and I don’t see why we need to do it now. It just seems unnecessary, and will cause too many mechanical issues just for the sake of closing a loop hole that isn’t really there.

Option Two: Amour must defend against energy resistance!

The counter argument is that armour should defend against energy attacks, because in the real world that is exactly what would happen. HD&D strives for verisimilitude, well here is a big fat example that HD&D cannot afford to ignore.

The instantaneous burst from a fireball won’t penetrate armour. Electricity will arc around armoured foes and damage them less. These are scientific facts, and the game should accomodate them.

The Poll

So there are the options. If you’re still not clear what all this is about, go back and have a read of the aforementioned discussions. Get informed and then vote. Your vote counts, you know!

HD&D: Character Races II

Previously, we looked at the underlying rational behind the mechanics for player character races. It was a long time ago now, so you may not remember. The goal was to convert ten races into HD&D: Dragonborn, Dwarf, Elf, Genasi, Gnome, Half-elf, Half-orc, Halfling, Human and Tiefling. To that list I am going to add an eleventh. I want fully playable stats for Genbassi as well. This is an Iourn race based on the third edition Mongrelfolk, for those not in the know.

In this post I am going present the starting statistics for five player character races – the two that were introduced in fourth edition, and three of an older pedigree. Hopefully, this will provide sufficient variety for you to make an informed choice on whether my approach will work. It’s better to show than to tell, so I’ll let you have a look at the stats first and then give you the commentary. Any lose ends we’ll tidy up at the end.

If you haven’t read it, the post on Talents, Traits and Feats is an essential primer as it will tell you how to read the entries. Also the more recent post on Hit Points and Damage gives you some perspective on how I am working out damage values.

At the moment there’s a poll going on to determine how we apply racial ability score modifiers to non-human characters. As the results of that aren’t in yet, we’ll proceed with my original thoughts for now: all non-human races have +2 to two prescribed ability scores, +2 to two prescribed attributes and +1 to one prescribed defence. That’s what the voting is currently leaning toward, but it’s very close.

Shall we begin?

Dragonborn

The HD&D Dragonborn (version 1)

Some campaign background. The Dragonborn on Iourn were introduced in the adventure Where Dragons Fear to Tread. It was revealed that the Dragonborn were the servants of Bahamut during the Dragon Wars that ravaged Iourn millennia ago. They (along with Bahamut) had been imprisoned in the Walk Between Worlds by Io as a means of stopping the war. Recent adventures in the Hand that Rocks the Cradle campaign, have revealed that Dragonborn are starting to be born to parents of other races, and that they are therefore returning to the world.

This seeks to position the Iourn Dragonborn as the typical holy warriors, which is a role they readily lend themselves to. Iourn Dragonborn had their origins firmly in the third edition Races of the Dragon supplement, where they were not in fact a race, but a group of like-minded individuals from many races who had been transformed into a dragon-like form. With the advent of fourth edition, I saw the advantage in making them a race in their own right. However, the origin of the race itself may still be similar to the way it was presented in third edition.

Commentary on the Dragonborn

Right, you’ve read over the PDF, let me take  you through it one step at a time and hopefully explain my decisions to you.

The stat block is taken almost exclusively from fourth edition. They get a +2 bonus to the Knowledge (Religion) skill instead of History, but in the context of Iourn I think this is appropriate. Note how the dragonborn have a inate claw attack that does the same damage as a short sword. This means that a dragonborn is considered armed whenever he attacks, and that his attacks do real damage and not subdual damage. Not that I’ve necessarily decided to go down the third edition road of nonlethal damage, but I’m keeping my options open at this stage.

The two racial traits are less impressive. Dragonborn Fury is an expanded version of the trait that appears in the 4e Player’s Handbook. Draconic Armour is just there to give the dragonborn some armoured skin to reflect their reptilian nature. As I mentioned in the last post to this blog, we have to be careful what level we set this armour class at, and whether we allow natural armour stack with worn armour. Personally, I say that we don’t. In light of that +2 Armour Class should probably be written as Armour Class 2.

Now, onto the traits. Notice that despite my desire to make most traits either at-will or continuously active, both of these dragonborn traits use the same recharge mechanic as spells. I think this is appropriate in these cases, but I’m aware that I have to be careful about this.

Dragon Breath has become a cone rather than fourth edition’s rather artificial ‘blast’. I spoke about my house rules for cones long ago on this blog. Notice the attack roll that is required for the dragon breath. This could, I think cause some problems.

There is no base attack in HD&D, therefore every attack roll has to come off a skill. So what skill do you use for a breath weapon? Do you have a “Breath Weapon” skill? That sounds horribly specialised, and penalises the Dragonborn because he has to spend skill points on an extra skill that no one else has to bother with, simply to use a racial talent. Plus if you create a special skill for this, do we create another special skill for a Manticore firing off his tail spikes, or the gaze of the medusa?

For the purpoes of this example, I’ve defaulted the dragon breath to the Unarmed Combat skill. This skill is woefully inadequate for the task of representing inate supernatural attacks. It’s designed for punches, kicks and head butts. Any suggestions for what we replace it with?

Also the unarmed combat skill is modified by whichever is the highest of the dragonborn’s physical ability scores. This is pure 4e-speak, and is only there to make sure the dragonborn’s breath doesn’t become too inaccurate at higher levels. Is there a problem with this?

The damage firmly applies to my guidance on damage from the last post. However, as it only advances every five levels there is a bit of a jump in potency at those levels. A 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th and 25th level dragonborn might find the damage potential of his breath rather low compared to foes of the same level, until the advancement to the next tier of damage rebalances the equation.

Dragonborn Zeal was a 4e power published in an issue of Dragon Magazine and now modified for my purposes. Although, it doesn’t have the same cachet as dragon breath it does seem to underline the Dragonborn’s nature as a ravening, unstoppable monster. I see Dragonborn as inherently dangerous. They only have the veneer of a civilised race, beneath the surface they are… well, they’re dragons.

The feats are exclusively adapted from fourth edition products – either PHB1 or Dragon. I don’t think that there’s anything too controversial here. They are what you would expect from feats. There is certainly scope to create many more. All the meta-breath feats from the third edition Draconomicon are on the table.

Dwarf

The HD&D Dwarf (version 1)

There are various dwarven civilisations throughout Iourn, but all of them use the same game statistics. This is not to say that there aren’t dwarven sub-races out there somewhere, but for the most part all Iourn dwarves are what would have been referred to as Mountain Dwarves or Hill Dwarves in second edition. Both of these races have always been treated in exactly the same way.

When it comes to races like the Derro or the Duergar, I would prefer to treat these as an entirely separate race and not class them as a subrace of dwarf. I’ll take the same approach with the drow and the elves.

Comentary on the Dwarf

The attribute modifiers are straight out of fourth edition, as is the Speed rating. The dwarf is still slower than a human, but not significantly slower. His skill bonuses may raise an eyebrow. He gets +2 to Craft checks, and a +2 to a Weapon Group (either hammers or axes). That is of course, the same as +2 to hit. A fine advantage for combat-orientated dwarf.

The Racial Traits are a synthesis of third and fourth editions and (I think) suitably dwarfy. More so than the dragonborn, the dwarf’s racial traits really sum up a lot of what it means to be a dwarf.

Moving on to the Talents, and there is only really one generic talent here that is suitable for all dwarves: Unflinching Fatalism. Iourn dwarves have a distinctly Norse outlook on life, which is summed up in this talent. However, I think that it might be a little too powerful. The talent gives the dwarf a +5 to his Will defence aganist Enchantments and Fear effects. But if you compare it to the dwarf’s racial trait that gives him a +5 bonus versus poison, then perhaps it isn’t too extreme.

The other four talents are my way of adapting the Mineral Warrior Template to HD&D. This is largely because one of my PCs has the template, and I need to find a way to make it work in the context of the new system. In practice “Mineralised Warrior” will probably be a Prestige Class that you have to be a dwarf to take, but the racial talents seems as good a place as any to show case these abilities.

And yes, I know that in third edition anyone could be a mineralised warrior. However, I’m changing the rules slightly here to make the change Brack has gone through more significant. It isn’t as if the party has met a mineralised anything-else in the meantime.

Try as I might, I couldn’t seem to keep the talents down to less than four. So it’s a big committment for anyone to take all of them. I removed Earth Strike from the chain, making it available to any dwarf whether mineralised or not. I have a little more to say about two of the talents:

Mineralised Might is the first example of a talent that adds to a character’s attributes. The original 3rd ed Mineral Warrior template changed the characters attributes as follows: +2 Str, +4 Con, -2 Int, -2 Wis, -2 Cha. The HD&D version grants +4 Str, +4 Con and -2 Int. A better all round package, but is it worth a talent? Should you be able to pick a talent that gives you a penalty to an ability score? Have a think.

I’m having second thoughts about Tenacious Tunneller. The text uses the fourth edition definition of the Burrow speed. When you burrow you leave a tunnel behind you that others can follow. I think I prefer the third edition version, where there is no tunnel and so you can’t be followed. Or, I might make it so that only creatures that are smaller than you can follow down the tunnel you create. Any thoughts?

Some dwarf feats have been taken from the fourth edition PHB1. Others are my own invention. Like the dragonborn feats, they are what they are. Given the traits and talents available, they are also fairly predictable. However, any feat called Deafening Smackdown should surely be a must for any dwarf, right?

Elves

The HD&D Elf (version 1)

In fourth edition, the elf was split into two distinct races: the elf and the eladrin. Each one represents a different elven stereotype: the archer and the wizard respectively. On Iourn, eladrin are a celestial race (not dissimilar to how there were presented in second edition). They are the original fey and progenitors of the elves. After further consideration of the matter, I don’t think there’s any room for 4e’s definition of eladrin on Iourn.

So on Iourn there are just elves. These rules cover three different types of elf. I wouldn’t call them sub-races, as their differences are entirely cultural. It wouldn’t be unusual to find all three types of elf in the same community. The three are the High Elves or Araedhel (such as Grimalkin), the Sylvan Elves or Tauredhel (such as the Arboreal Guardians of Faerauth) and the Sword Elves or Magoledhel (such as Anwyn).

The three types enjoy different different skill, attribute and defence bonuses. However, they may choose from a common pool of Racial Traits and Racial Talents. Depending on how the poll goes, a rules-based  distinction between the elves might prove irrelevent.

Commentary on the Elf

So we have three stat blocks to look at. I won’t point out the differences, as they should be evident. An Araedhel is far more suited to being a wizard than either of the others. The traditional elven bonus to hit with bows and swords is divided between the Tauredhel and Magoledhel respectively.

You will then notice that there are four racial traits and not two. Elves can still only select two traits, but don’t worry. There will be a general feat that can be selected multiple times to ‘mop-up’ any extra racial traits you want your character to have.

The elf’s racial traits are taken from second, third and fourth editions. There are so many options for elves that it is difficult to squeeze them all in to the options I permit in HD&D. Elves have traditionally gained bonuses to Knowledge (Nature) and Perception in the past. Those bonuses aren’t in the stat block, but they can still get them through their racial traits.

Onto talents. There are only really two listed. Grey Step is simply a means for me to explain the powers used by elves up to this point in various Iourn campaigns. It isn’t unavailable to PCs per se, it’s just unlikely a player character elf would get it and keep it. It is rather powerful.

Fey Step and Elven Accuracy are my versions of the fourth edition powers made available to the 4e eladrin and elf respectively. They aren’t greatly changed, although they have been tweaked slightly.

The Elf feats presented here are adaptations of fourth edition feats and racial traits that didn’t fit anywhere else. There is a fair amount of bias toward 4e source material here, but this is largely because I haven’t got around to a close reading of many of my third edition supplements just yet.

Human

The HD&D Human (version 1)

Ah, the human. Feasibly the master of every class under my generous put-your-ability-score-bonuses-where-you-like system. Of course, humans are the most difficult race to create racial traits, talents and feats for. When you think about it, all the other races are just humans with an exaggerated personality and physical traits. Humans represent the base-level of all other races. They are by definition bland and rather unexciting. So how do we sex up humans?

Third and fourth takes the view that humans are just more adaptable than other races, and this is the tack I am also taking. I have also made an effort to align humans with Fate and destiny. They have abilities that tweak the game mechanics to and allow them to be their most heroic at dramtatically appropriate times.

Commentary on the Human

Obvious, if it’s not broke I’m not going to fix it, so the human’s Racial Traits are very familiar to any third edition player. One bonus feat, and some extra skill points. Such things are always welcome. In HD&D being a human is the only way to get your hands on an extra feat. You should value that.

I am less happy with the racial talents. The three presented here appeared as feats in the third edition book, Races of Destiny. While they are all right, I’m not sure that they are good enough to be talents in their own right. Have a read and see what you think.

Finally, the feats are a mixture of fourth edition feats and new feats that augment the powers of the racial talents. There’s some good stuff here; a little uninspired perhaps, but definitely useful.

Tiefling

The HD&D Tiefling (version 1)

The tiefling was only introduced as a unique race in fourth edition. They have since appeared in the Cradlelands campaign. The original tieflings (individuals that carry some form of fiendish blood in their ancestry) still exist, but this post is for the Iourn equivalent of the fourth edition tiefling – or the Varrashtar as they call themselves.

Commentary on the Tiefling

Let us begin with the Racial Traits. Bloodhunt is the same as the dragonborn’s Dragborn Fury racial trait, only in reverse. I want the HD&D tiefling to be an intrinsically nasty basket, a dirty fighter who takes advantage of a foe’s weaknes. Bloodhunt is a good start down that road.

There are two Racial Talents presented here. Infernal Wrath carries on the theme I started with Bloodhunt. It is similar to the 4e power of the same name, but not completely the same. For one thing, the HD&D version of Infernal Wrath is used as an immediate reaction to an attack against the tiefling. It is instant retribution from the diabolic monster within.

Darkness Diabolique is the update of a third edition tiefling’s ability to cast darkness once per day. It is a useful ability, and excessively creepy. Combined with one or two of the racial feats I have invented it becomes significantly more potent.

In fact, the feats are the part of the tiefling entry I am most proud of. They magnify both the racial talents to extreme degrees. Notice that of the two feats that amplify Darkness Diabolique, Algid Darkness only works when the character is unbloodied, and Ravenous Darkness only works when the character is bloodied. I quite like that.

In Conclusion

So there we are. The first proper statistics for the HD&D game. Sorry they have been so long in coming. I think I have addressed all of my own concerns, but I’m sure that you will have concerns of your own. Do too many of these talents use the recharge mechanic? I haven’t tried to balance natural weapons, enhanced vision or speed between the races. Does this matter? Marc thought it did before, do you still think that now?

Comments please!

HD&D: Hit Points and Damage

In my first post about HD&D I spoke of the need to get the maths right. I suggested that a character of level x should have about a 50% chance to hit another character of level x. I said that it should take four successful hits to bring down a character of your level. Put the two together and we are saying that a fight against a character that is the same level as you are should last about eight rounds.

So far, this blog has been big on the principles and short on the details. For the above to work properly we need to know what the average hit points are for each level. From that we can extrapolate the average damage we can expect a character of that level to inflict. Here’s where things start getting technical.

Hit Points in HD&D

Hit Points in HD&D are derived in a very similar method to the one used in fourth edition. There is no dice rolling, so all characters of the same class will have fairly similar hit points. As with all editions of D&D, certain classes get more hit points than others.

In third and second editions this was managed by the dice rolled for hit points. Barbarians (d12); Fighters and Paladins (d10); Rangers, Monks, Clerics and Druids (d8); Rogues and Bards (d6); Wizards and Sorcerers (d4).

In fourth edition, hit points are derived from your character’s role: Defender (6 hit points per level); Striker and Leader (5 hit points per level); Controller (4 hit points per level).

There are three hit point bands in HD&D that mirror the roles from 4e. These bands are Warrior (for muscly athletic types), Scholar (for emphysemic wizardy types) and General (for everyone else). Anyone who comes up with a better term than “General” will have my gratitude. However, unlike 4e you only get extra hit points for your class when you take a Talent related to that class.

Here’s how it works:

Base Hit Points: Constitution Score

Hit Points per level: 4/level (including level one)

Actually, the hit points per level are dependent on Size. Small and Medium creatures get 4 hit points, larger creatures get more hit points. More on this below.

Additional hit points are gained every time you take a Talent. Remember you get a talent at every odd numbered level, except levels 1, 11 and 21 when you get three talents. The number of hit points you receive depend on the class or race associated with the talent.

Warrior-related Talents: +4 hit points

General-related Talents: +2 hit points

Scholar-related Talents: +0 hit points

So a first level fighter with a Constitution score of 18, who takes three fighter class talents would have the following hit points at first level:

18 (his Con score) + 4 (for his level) + 12 (three fighter talents) = 34

Whereas a wizard with a Con of 10, who takes three wizard class talents would have following:

10 (his Con score) + 4 (for his level) + 0 (for his talents) = 14

The above examples are on the extreme side, but anyone who has played any D&D will know that they are well within the bounds of possibility. Because Constitution only affects your hit points at first level, the difference between warriors, scholars and everyone else are most extreme at this level. Proportionally the difference between a wizard and fighter’s hit point is less extreme than in third edition.

Let’s put all this into a table. The table below assumes that all characters start with a Con of 13 that is improved to 14 at level 11, and 15 at level 21. It also assumes that the character has exclusively chosen talents related to its class for its entire career. Multiclass characters will have different hit points, and will drift closer to the General value.

Table: Average Hit Points by Level

Level

Warrior

General

Scholar

1

29

23

17

2

33

27

21

3

41

33

25

4

45

37

29

5

53

43

33

6

57

47

37

7

65

53

41

8

69

57

45

9

77

63

49

10

81

67

53

11

98

78

58

12

102

82

62

13

110

88

66

14

114

92

70

15

122

98

74

16

126

102

78

17

134

108

82

18

138

112

86

19

146

118

90

20

150

122

94

21

166

132

98

22

170

136

102

23

178

142

106

24

182

146

110

25

190

152

114

26

194

156

118

27

202

162

122

28

206

166

126

29

214

172

130

30

218

176

134

So how does the above compare to previous editions? It would probably be misguided to produce a level to level equivalent, but here’s the some of the highlights for levels 1, 10, 20 and 30. The number in parenthesis is the average hit points, rounded up. The following assumes a Con of 13, increasing to 14 at level 11.

Second Edition:

Fighter: Level 1 (6), Level 10 (60), Level 20 (90), Level 30 (120)
Priest: Level 1 (5), Level 10 (50), Level 20 (70), Level 30 (90)
Thief: Level 1 (4), Level 10 (40), Level 20 (60), Level 30 (80)
Wizard: Level 1 (3), Level 10 (30), Level 20 (40), Level 30 (50)

Third Edition:

Fighter: Level 1 (11), Level 10 (74), Level 20 (154), Level 30 (234)
Priest: Level 1 (9), Level 10 (63), Level 20 (133), Level 30 (203)
Rogue: Level 1 (7), Level 10 (52), Level 20 (112), Level 30 (172)
Wizard: Level 1 (5), Level 10 (41), Level 20 (91), Level 30 (141)

Fourth Edition:

Defender: Level 1 (32), Level 10 (80), Level 20 (142), Level 30 (203)
Striker: Level 1 (28), Level 10 (70), Level 20 (121), Level 30 (172)
Controller: Level 1 (23), Level 10 (59), Level 20 (100), Level 30 (140)

Please don’t pull apart the numbers too much. I’m working from memory for the second edition stuff. The above is mostly right – certainly it’s right enough for you to get the general gist.

So you can conclude from the above that I intend to hand out hit points at about the same rate as 4e, with the exception that clerics, rogues and wizards get a few less hit points and fighters get a few more. However, I have said that level 30 in HD&D will be the equivalent of level 20 in third edition. So let’s compare the hit points level 30 HD&D characters have when compared to level 20 third edition characters:

In HD&D a fighter’s average hit points increases from 142 to 218; a cleric’s average hit points increases from 133 to 176; a rogue’s average hit points go up from 112 to 176; and a wizard’s average hit points go up from 91 to 134.

This isn’t an entirely fair comparisson in that we’re going from four bands of hit points (d10, d8, d6 and d4) to three bands (Warrior, General and Scholar). Also, Consitution has a much larger bearing on third edition hit points. A 20th level fighter with Con of 18 has an average of 204 hit points, and a maximum of 280 hit points. However, the point that I’m giving everyone more hit points on average, has not been lost in translation.

I have to confess that I’ve become very focused on making the maths work, not in creating hit point totals that ressemble previous editions. If you remember my earlier post I said I was looking at giving PCs 3 extra hit points for Defender Talents and 1½ hit points for Striker Talents. Well half hit points are cumbersome, so I changed it to 4 and 2 extra hit points respectively. Obviously, this boosted the hit points available to those characters.

Personally, I don’t think that the amount of hit points really matters. PCs could have a million hit points, as long as each successful attack did a quarter of a million points of damage. The fact is that it’s all relative. As long as we balance the damage potential of the characters, then we shouldn’t have a problem. Fortunately, the HD&D figures are close enough to fourth edition to use that as a base.

Hit Points and Size

Remember I said that all characters get 4 hit points per level regardless of them class? Well, that’s not entirely true. It makes sense to give larger creatures more hit points than smaller ones. It makes sense from the verisimilitude perspective, bit it also makes sense from a purely mechanical point of view.

If you have a big monster, then it is likely that all the PCs will attack it at once. If that monster only has the same hit points as any one party member they are likely to survive less than one round – perhaps even before they get to do anything. This is the logic between Solo monsters in fourth edition, and indeed where I have shamelessly stolen the kernal of this idea. This is my proposal:

Size

Hit Points Gained
Tiny 2/level
Small 4/level
Medium 4/level
Large 8/level
Huge 12/level
Gargantuan 16/level
Colossal 20/level

For example, imagine a Great Wyrm Red Dragon. It’s fiftieth level, with a Con of 40. That means it’s got 1040 hit points, plus any extras from its talents. I suspect that would leave the final figure at about 1180 hit points. Ridiculously powerful? It’s a fiftieth level dragon! How ridiculous do you want to get?

As I have said before, doing it this way creates difficulties in making PCs of Large size or larger. I have yet to come up with a suitable work around, but I think that it’s within reason to eschew the third edition philosophy and say that some races are just unsuitable as player characters.

That said, Large PCs should be doable. But that’s not the thrust of this blog post, we’ll get to them in due course.

Damage Potential

Right. So, a successful attack should inflict a quarter of average hit points; that way it takes four successful hits to bring down your enemy. I am going to assume that Average Hit Points are those listed in the “General” column in the table above. Average hit points for a 17th level character are 108; therefore an attack from a 17th level character should inflict about 27 points of damage. This has the happy side effect of making a fighter a little more durable than average, and a wizard a little less durable.

I can almost hear the murmurs of discontent. Let’s put all this in a table first, and pick it apart in a moment.

Level

Average Hit Points

Average Damage

1

23

6

2

27

7

3

33

8

4

37

9

5

43

11

6

47

12

7

53

13

8

57

14

9

63

16

10

67

17

11

78

20

12

82

21

13

88

22

14

92

23

15

98

25

16

102

26

17

108

27

18

112

28

19

118

30

20

122

31

21

132

33

22

136

34

23

142

36

24

146

37

25

152

38

26

156

39

27

162

41

28

166

42

29

172

43

30

176

44

The above figures should only be taken as guidance. When we look at how much damage we assign to a Talent or a Spell, we reference this table but we are not slaves to this table. How does this work in practice? Let’s look at two examples. The first is for a spell, the second for a weapon.

Damage by Spell

Fireball is a third level spell, which means a wizard gets it at level nine (trust me, it’s level nine, we’ll discuss spells later). That means fireball needs to do somewhere in the vicinity of 16 points of damage, on average.

How we get to 16 is entirely up to us. Maybe a ninth level fireball inflicts 3d10 damage (average 16½) or 2d12+3 (average 16). We don’t even have to stick to the 16 average. We might want the spell to do  4d8 damage (average 18!), or 3d8+4 damage (also average 17½), or maybe it does 5d6 damage (again the average is 17½).

When a wizard in third or second edition gained fireball, he got at at fifth level and it did a base 5d6 damage. We like continuity, it gives us a warm and fuzzy feeling, so in HD&D Fireball is a third level spell, gained at 9th level, and inflicts 5d6 damage. That gives us an average of 17½ instead of 16, but it isn’t far off and it feels right to me.

The next question is do we want the damage to scale. Well, it’s a spell so the damage doesn’t have to scale at all. The wizard could just learn a different spell (Greater Fireball or some such thing) at a higher level, but let’s assume that we do want it to scale. Fireball always scaled traditionally after all.

In the past, this spell increased its damage in increments of 1d6. Now 5d6 is an average of 17½ damage. An extra 1d6 adds 3½ points to the average damage roll. So let’s take the average damage for fireballs of escalating potency and map them onto the “Average Damage” that a character should be inflicting with his level. The results are something like this:

  • 5d6 (av. 17½) = 9th Level
  • 6d6 (av. 21) = 12th Level
  • 7d6 (av. 24½) = 15th Level
  • 8d6 (av. 28) = 18th Level
  • 9d6 (av. 31½) = 21st Level
  • 10d6 (av. 35) = 24th Level

Notice, that the average damage is seldom exactly the same as the level I have mapped it onto, but it is close enough. In fact, fireball, seems to work surprisingly well (even if I do say so myself). The damage is perhaps just a little on the low side at higher levels, but that should be fine. After all, it is only a third level spell. A 24th level wizard should be calling upon the bigger guns in a crisis. Fireball is also an area effect spell; I’ll discuss how this might influence our decision for how much damage it inflicts later.

In summary: fireball is a third level spell gained by the wizard at level nine. Its damage increases by 1d6 every three levels to a maximum of 10d6 at level twenty-four. Marvellous.

Damage from a Weapon

This is much trickier. Going by what I have already written, a swing of a sword should inflict the same damage as a spell. So at 24th level it should be the equivalent of a 24th level fireball. Well… let’s not lose sight of why we are doing this. I don’t want to create a system that is as utterly unlikely and seamlessly bland as fourth edition.

I think that given the right circumstances, feats and talents a fighter should be able to inflict damage with a sword that is approching the damage a wizard could do with a spell. However, he really has to work at it. Let’s look at the numbers and see where they take us.

This fighter is going to start with a Strength of 18, and he is going to increase his Strength at every conceivable opportunity. This is not as unlikely a circumstance as you may think. Assuming the fighter is using a longsword, the average damage he inflicts is as follows:

  • Levels 1-7: 1d8+4 (av. 8½)
  • Levels 8-13: 1d8+5 (av. 9½)
  • Levels 14-20: 1d8+6 (av. 10½)
  • Levels 21-27: 1d8+7 (av. 11½)
  • Levels 28-33: 1d8+8 (av. 12½)

Which is absolutely nowhere near where the fighter should be. At 12½ damage per round a 33rd level fighter would take about 31 rounds to obliterate the hit points of another 33rd level character. Or would they?

Unlike the wizard, the fighter needs to use his talents and his feats to heighten his skill and his damage potential. There are feats that increase his chance to hit. When that chance becomes more than 50%, the rate of average damage increase purely by dint of the fact that the fighter hits more often. There are then other feats, such as Weapon Specialisation, that will increase the damage. Factor in Weapon Specialisation and the average damage becomes this:

  • Levels 1-5: 1d8+5 (av. 10½)
  • Levels 6-7: 1d8+6 (av. 11½)
  • Levels 8-10: 1d8+7 (av. 12½)
  • Levels 11-13: 1d8+8 (av. 13½)
  • Levels 14-15: 1d8+9 (av. 14½)
  • Levels 16-20: 1d8+10 (av. 15½)
  • Levels 21-25: 1d8+11 (av. 16½)
  • Levels 26-27: 1d8+12 (av. 17½)
  • Levels 28-33: 1d8+13 (av. 18½)

Amazing the difference a simple feat makes isn’t it? Weapon Specialisation gives you +1 damage per five levels in HD&D (in case you were trying to work it out). However, even with the above, the fighter if falling short of the damage capacity that we want from him.

This is where talents come to our rescue. Double Strike, Triple Strike and Two-Weapon Fighting increase the number of attacks per round, and therefore the damage. One can imagine other talents that increase the damage of a single attack. Power Attack, anyone?

This blog is getting very close to to the point where I start posting details of HD&D character classes. The first one I am going to look at is the Fighter. When that happens, I think we have to revisit the damage potential of the fighter, and those other classes that rely on weapons instead of talents and spells. The write-up for the HD&D fighter will include details of talents and feats that increase the damage the fighter deals (within limits). However, there are still a few other things we need to discuss.

Damage per Round?

Okay, so four successful hits brings down a foe the same level as you. Only half your attacks hit, so it takes eight rounds to defeat the foe. Or does it? What happens when characters have multiple attacks per round. Should the required damage be inflicted per attack, or should it be the sum of all the attacks in the round.

Here’s an example.

A 21st level character should inflict about 33 points of damage with a successful attack. Most characters only get one attack per round. The wizard casts his spell and BANG, 33 damage. However, a 21st level fight could be attacking multiple times over the course of one round.

A fighter with the Double Attack and Triple Attack talents gets three attacks per round. Should each of those attacks do 33 damage, or should the average result of all those attacks add up to 33 damage – so each individual attack only does 11 damage?

There’s some obvious problems for both options. If a fighter hits for the same damage with all his multiple attacks then he can potentially do much more damage than a wizard simply because of his additional attacks. The 21st level fighter could do 99 damage in one round.

However, it is wrong to assume that all those extra attacks will hit (even if they all have the same high attack bonus). If the fighter has a 50% chance to hit another fighter of the same level, that’s a 50% chance to hit with one attack. If he’s making three attacks then the chance of hitting with them all is 50% of 50% of 50%, or a 12½% chance by my reckoning. Therefore the damage potential shouldn’t be reduced by a third just because he’s making three attacks.

Mathematical Challenge! Someone who knows more about probability than me needs to have a look at this. If a character has a 50% chance of dealing 33 damage in one round, what is the average damage in one round if a character makes two, three or four of those attacks – taking into account the diminishing liklihood that all attacks hit.

So what do I do? Do I reduce the damage potential of multiple attacks – in a manner similar to fourth edition? Two shots with the ranger’s twin strike ability is better than making a basic attack, but it’s not better than making two basic attacks. Should I go down that road?

Or should I go the other way? If fighters can make multiple attacks and deal more damage then other classes should have the means to transcend their damage potential as well. We’ll reintroduce Quicken Spell as a feat, and give something comparable to all classes. We’ll create an arms race. We won’t make multiple attacks worse, we’ll give all the other classes the same opportunity to make their attacks better.

The problem here would be if a fighter combined lots of different talents and feats: Double Strike + Triple Strike + Two-Weapon Fighting + Power Attack + Skill Focus + Weapon Specialisation = multiple attacks doing more than average damage with a better than average chance of hitting. Something to think about.

Armour Class

 The next complication is armour class. In HD&D, armour class works in the same way that damage reduction worked in third edition. It reduces damage. For example, leather armour has an armour class of 2. That means if you are wearing leather armour, you take 2 less damage from every attack that hits you. If this reduces the damage to less than zero, then you don’t take any damage at all.

While this is fine in practice, there is an enormous amount of work to do to get this to balance in game. We cannot overpower armour class. Two points might be too much for leather armour. My instinct is to take the AC value of armour from third edition and use that as the HD&D version of armour class. Right or wrong, it’s certainly a good place to start.

For example, in third edition Full Plate granted you +8 to your armour class. In HD&D it makes sense for full plate to grant AC 8. If you are wearing full plate you ignore the first 8 points of damage from any attack. Maybe this makes sense, maybe it doesn’t. But it does have a profound knock on effect on the rest of the game.

Have a look again at the average damage a fighter with Strength 18 dishes out with a longsword. A longsword only deals a base 1d8 damage! If you’re absorbing 8 points of damage every time someone attacks you, then you will never get hurt. This can certainly be frustrating for the GM, and I speak from painful and ongoing personal experience.

But isn’t that fair enough? Isn’t it possible to wail on a knight in shining armour all day and do little more than bruise him? Here are some other things to think about:

  • As soon as we start taking away damage for wearing armour, then our calculations for what constitutes “average damage” is completely thrown off. A 21st level fighter attacking another 21st level fighter in full plate would have to roll 41 damage in order to inflict the required 33.
  •  

  • But if we upped the average damage to take account of armour, that penalises those who do not wear armour. It also makes spells more potent because they will (usually) by-pass armour.
  •  

  • Armour class probably wouldn’t apply against energy attacks. Armour is set up to defend against kinetic assaults.
  •  

  • If AC only applies against weapons, then we might have solved our problem with fighters and damage. Fighters might be able to get away with inflicting more damage because their attacks are subject to armour class. However, against unarmoured opponents fighters would be very dangerous indeed.
  •  

  • Certain weapons could be set up to ignore or partially ignore armour class. Piercing weapons like daggers are designed to punch through chainmail. However, we have to be careful that we don’t make things too complicated.
  •  

  • Critical hits could by-pass all armour. You really feel it when someone rolls a natural 20 against you.
  •  

  • Then there is the problem of magic weapons. If full plate is problematic then +5 full plate would be even more so! Like weapons, I would intend magic armours to grant bonuses other than additional armour class. Maybe there is a type of magic full plate let’s you use your armour class to defend against fire attacks, for example.
  •  

  • What stacks? Some creatures have natural armour (even some PCs will have natural armour). Does that stack with Armour Class? I would say definitely not!
  •  

  • How do we handle natural armour? Some monsters in third edition had upwards of +30 natural armour. Does this give them an armour class of 30? Surely we can see that such a thing would break the game in HD&D.

Exceptions that Prove the Rule

The last thing I want to underline is that all of the above can be ignored on a case-by-case basis. Some classes just don’t deal damage. If we’re looking at the diviner or the healer or even the bard, we shouldn’t expect them to match the fighter, the wizard or the ranger in terms of damage output. Their strengths lie elsewhere.

Which I think is absolutely fine. We should not fall into the trap of fourth edition and create classes that are always useful in all situations. A diviner should be no more able to slay the orc king with a battle axe, than the barbarian should be able to see the future.

After almost a year of fourth edition hype and expectation we need to return to a third-edition way of thinking: it’s okay for classes to specialise. What the above rules do is give us firm principles to fall back on when we have to assign a damage value to something. It’s a necessary tool, not  a prescription.

Over to you.

HD&D: Everybody was Two-Weapon Fighting

Okay, whenever I promise a post on a particular topic I think it’s best if you don’t believe a word I’m saying. It’s a lot of work coming up with cool Darkness powers for tieflings. Let’s talk about something else first.

Two-Weapon fighting is causing me problems. Multiple attacks need to work better in HD&D than they did in third edition, but I don’t want to tie them to “powers” as fourth edition has done. Today’s topic is how we handle this crucial element of the game in HD&D.

Just so we are clear, when I refer to “attacks per round” I mean attacks per round with a weapon.

Multiple Attacks in a Round

One of the things I want to do in HD&D is remove the iterative attacks that classes automatically gain. That sort of things slows combat down horribly. Fourth edition and the Star Wars Saga game has gone some significant distance to solving this problem. First, I’ll remind you how it used to work.

In second edition, classes of the Warrior group got additional attacks as they gained levels. They received two attacks every three rounds at seventh level, and then two attacks per round at thirteenth level. Every other class only ever had one attack per round – unless they were using a bow, anyone could fire a bow twice in a round.

In third edition the number of attacks were calculated from you base attack bonus. The base attack bonus increased as you gained levels, the increase varying depending on your character class. When your base attack bonus reached +6 you gained a second attack at +1. When you base attack bonus reached +11 your secondary attack was at +6 and you gained a third attack a +1. When your base attack bonus reached +16 your secondary attack was +11, your third attack was +6 and you got a fourth attack at +1. Regardless of level you never got any more attacks after twentieth level.

This means that of twentieth level characters a fighter would have four attacks per round, a cleric or rogue would have three attacks per round, and a wizard would have two attacks per round.

The problem with the third edition method – in addition to it taking so long for high level characters to make their attacks – was that the additional attacks had little to no chance of hitting. The fourth attack was at an effective -15 to hit. What was the point? You seldom hit the foe with it, and it was just taking up valuable table time.

There was also the problem that to make multiple attacks you had to use the “full attack” action. This meant that you gave up your Standard action and your Move action for the round and concentrated on hitting your foe as many times as possible. Over-complicated, and I know of players who still hadn’t got their heads around that after years of play.

In fourth edition, if you do make multiple attacks then your still make them as a standard action. This is simpler. Attacking multiple times in a round is not a right, it is dependent upon the power you are using. In the same way that wizards can strike multiple foes depending on their spells, fighters or rangers can hit multiple foes depending on their choice of power.

I’m not sure I compeltely agree with this. While I think that multiple attacks should be based on the talent system, I don’t think that they should be as prescribed as they are in fourth edition. The Star Wars (Saga Edition) game ressembles fourth edition in many respects, but it handles multiple attacks differently.

In that game you need to take specific feats to make extra attacks. You take the Double Attack feat to make two attacks in a round, and the Triple Attack feat to take three attacks in a round. There’s no penalty to hit with any of these attacks. That’s probably the way I’m going to go, except these abilities will be talents and not feats.

So we have the talents Double Attack (prerequisite 11th level), and Triple Attack (prerequisites Double Attack and 21st level). Additional attacks are made at the same bonus to hit. These talents would only be available to the obvious warrior type classes like Fighter, Ranger, Paladin and so on. I’ll spend more time talking about this when we get to the combat section (although feel free to comment on it now). The burning question is, if we go down this route for multiple attacks in a round, how does this effect two weapon fighting?

Two-Weapon Fighting through History

In deciding where we are going to take HD&D, let’s have a look at how two weapon fighting has been handled in the last four incarnations of Dungeons and Dragons. It’s interesting to see how it’s evolved.

Second Edition AD&D

Only members of the Warrior group (Fighters, Paladins and Rangers) could fight with a weapon in each hand. The weapon in the off-hand needed to be smaller in size and weight than the weapon in the primary hand. Fighting with two weapons was tricky. All attacks with the primary weapon suffered a -2 penalty to the attack roll, and all attacks with the secondary weapon suffered a -4 penalty to the attack roll. Rangers ignored this penalty. Everyone else could apply their Dexterity Reaction Adjustment as a positive modifier to the penalty.

Attacking with two weapons allowed a character to make one additional attack per round with the secondary weapon. One extra attack per round is all that you could ever get using this technique.

Third Edition D&D (version 3.0)

If you thought 2nd edition was complicated, then you have yet to experience the marvels of two-weapon fighting in third edition. In the first incarnation of third edition, two-weapon fighting was available for everyone as long as you had the right feats.

If you had no training at all then your suffered a -6 penalty to hit with the primary weapon and a -10 penalty to attack with the secondary weapon. If you had the Two-Weapon Fighting feat, and the Ambidexterity feat and your off-hand weapon was a light weapon, then you could reduce that penalty down to -2 to hit with both weapons. There was a whole table’s worth of penalties that applied depending on what combination of feats and weapons you happened to have.

Rangers automatically got equivalents of the Two-Weapon Fighting and Ambidexterity feats at first level – but only if they were wearing nothing heavier than light armour.

Just like second edition, fighting with two weapons gave you one additional attack per round with the secondary weapon. But the benefit didn’t stop there. If you took the feat Improved Two-Weapon fighting you could get a second extra attack with the secondary weapon at a -5 penalty.

Third Edition D&D (version 3.5)

Version 3.5 did away with the Ambidexterity feat. Now all you needed to fight with two weapons was the Two-Weapon Fighting feat – although the feat did now carry prerequisite of Dexterity 15, putting it out of the reach of many characters. Once again, rangers got this feat for free.

The table of penalties from version 3.0 was shorter, but otherwise unchanged. Penalties started at -6/-10 and improved to -2/-2 if you had the feat and were wielding a light weapon in your off hand. Fighting with two weapons also gave you the same benefit: one extra attack per round with the off-hand weapon.

Version 3.5 extended your options still further. Improved Two-Weapon Fighting and Greater Two-Weapon fighting could give you a second and third extra attack at a -5 and -10 penalty to hit respectively. Epic feats could give you more. Eventually, you could qualify for True Two-Weapon Fighting that gave you four extra attacks per round and removed the inherent -2 penalty to hit.

Fourth Edition D&D

Fourth edition places much less emphasis on the maths, but makes the whole thing seem even more unlikely. In fourth edition anyone can hold a weapon in each hand, but they cannot attack with both of them at all. They must choose which of the two weapons they use round by round.

The feat Two-Weapon Fighting still exists, but all it does is give you +1 to damage if you are wielding two weapons. That’s it.

The only way to actually attack with more than one weapon in a round is to use a power that says you can attack with more than one weapon. Certain powers of the Two-Weapon Ranger and the Tempest Fighter do this, and require you to be wielding two weapons when you pull them off. Rangers had the advantage of being able to use two weapons of the same size, whereas fighters must use two off-hand weapons.

Of course, multiple attacks are not dependent on holding two weapons, and 4e being 4e, the whole thing balances to such an extent you wonder what the point of two weapon fighting is in the first place. Really, the more I look at 4e’s power system the more I dislike it.

Two-Weapon Fighting in HD&D

Remarkable. Reading the descriptions listed above, I actually prefer the second edition approach above the others. One of the things I am enjoying about the HD&D process is that it’s letting me spend more time with my second edition rulebooks.

Anyway – based on everything that has been written above, there are several questions that we need to answer. If anyone can think of any more questions then please let me know!

1. Can everyone do it?
Is two-weapon fighting an option that should be open to everyone? Should a wizard be able to draw two daggers and just attack? If he does, then what penalty should we impose? Taking the HD&D maths into account a penalty of -5 to hit with both weapons would push the task into the next high difficulty band. That sounds like a good number.

2. How do you ‘train’ in two-weapon fighting?
If we assume that anyone can pick up a weapon in each hand and attack with a big penalty, how do you remove that penalty? How do you train in two-weapon fighting? It’s not a Skill, that wouldn’t work in the context of the system. So is it a Talent or a Feat? I’m leaning toward Talent (two-weapon fighting becomes a class ability). The talent could be available to fighters and rangers.

3. Should Rangers be better two-weapon fighters than Fighters?
Traditionally in D&D the Ranger has been the ultimate two-weapon warrior. In HD&D there’s more going on for the ranger. He has hunter’s quarry, and favoured enemies and favoured terrains and animal companions… can he afford to share his two-weapon schtick with the Fighter? In third edition the Fighter could be as good as the Ranger, but he needed to acquire the feats that the Ranger got for free. Where shall we lean here?

4. Once you have two-weapon fighting, can you make it better?
Assuming that two-weapon fighting grants you one extra attack per round, should there be a means to get any more attacks? Should we go down the route of the Improved Two-Weapon Fighting, Greater Two-Weapon Fighting and True Two-Weapon Fighting from third edition? My instinct is to say no, actually it’s to scream “NO!” at the top of my voice. Too many attacks per round slows the game down too much.

My Proposal

Characters can normally only make one attack per round with a weapon. Fighter-types can select the Double Attack and Triple Attack talents from 11th and 21st level to gain one or two additional attacks respectively. This wielding mêlée weapons can squeeze one more attack out of the system by attacking with a weapon in each hand like so:

If you hold a weapon in each hand you can attack with both of them, but each attack suffers a -5 penalty. If you have the Two-Weapon Fighting talent (only available to Rangers and Fighters) you don’t take this penalty. When fighting with two weapons one of the weapons must be an off-hand weapon, unless you have the Oversize Two-Weapon Fighting feat in which case both weapons can be the same size.

Attacking with two weapons allows you to make one additional attack in the round with your off-hand weapon. For example, a fighter with Two-Weapon Fighting and Triple Attack would make three attacks with this primary weapon, and one attack with his off-hand weapon.

In Conclusion

Multiple attacks slow the game down. There’s no escaping that. However, multiple attacks are part and parcel of D&D, do we really want to get rid of them completely? Plus they are a way of balancing the damage potential of the fighter when compared to fireball-happy mage.

Making sure that all attacks use the same bonus to hit is important. Making three attacks at +15 to hit is much easier than making one attack at +15, one at +10 and one at +5. That’s why the penalty to hit with both weapons when two-weapon fighting is now the same.  This will act to speed the game up slightly. Plus attacking with multiple weapons will still be a standard action and HD&D characters will still get less attacks than their third edition equivalents.

Is this a sufficient solution to the problem? Let me know below.

HD&D: Talents, Traits and Feats

In my last tangent before we get on to the nitty-gritty of the character races, today’s post is going to look in more depth at talents, traits and feats. It occurred to me, as I compiled HD&D descriptions for a handful of character races, that I was writing for an audience of one. Without first setting the parameters of what makes a trait, what makes a talent and what makes a feat, the racial descriptions are largely meaningless.

So without further ado, let’s have a chat about the crucial distinctions between these three categories, and how they benefit all characters. There is a fourth category: spells. While I chat about spells in passing in the text to follow, we can spend more time on them later. Away we go.

Talents

The term “Talent” is borrowed from d20 Modern, although I’m sure it is used in a host of other games. In HD&D a Talent is a unique ability. Talents are to HD&D, what class abilities are in third edition. The ranger’s Favoured Enemy is a talent, the paladin’s Bonded Mount is a talent, the rogue’s Sneak Attack or the monk’s Flurry of Blows are talents.

HD&D calls all these abilities talents as a means of making sure that every class has the same number of class abilities. It is a matter of balance. Remember one of the goals of HD&D is to make a game that is more balanced than third edition, but without being so devastatingly bland as 4e.

Talents are gained depending on your level, not your class. You gain a certain number of talents as you advance in level irrespective of what class you have. Your choice of which talents you can choose is limited by your class. A fighter cannot learn Flurry of Blows unless he multiclasses into monk.

The progression for talents is as follows: you gain one talent at every odd numbered level except levels 1, 11 and 21. At these levels you get three talents. This keeps the fourth edition rational that the beginning of each ‘tier’ is more significant to the character.

A character therefore gets seven talents per tier, for a total of twenty-one talents by level 29. Remember that  HD&D turns third edition’s twenty level progression into a thirty level progression. A 30th level HD&D character is the same as a 20th level third edition character. That means that (unlike fourth edition) epic levels don’t start until level 31.

Racial Talents

Class abilities are only half the story. All races have a selection of Racial Talents that are available to them. Some races have more than others. The more powerful the race (the more powers that the race intrinsically possesses) the more talents are available. However, just because racial talents exist, doesn’t mean that your character automatically gets them. You have to choose them.

For example. A dragonborn’s Dragon Breath is a racial talent. At first level all characters have three talents. A dragonborn character has the option to take Dragon Breath as one of his three talents. Of course, he may then only select two talents related to his class.

So it’s a trade-off. Players must decide (at every odd-numbered level) whether they want talents that enhance their racial or their class abilities. Decide! How dwarfy do you want your dwarf to be? In order to balance all the character races, any powerful ability that a race has traditionally had access to, has become a racial talent. This will become clearer when you see the races in action in the next post.

What should a Talent do?

Talents should have their own obvious identity. You should be able to look at the text of a power and know instantly whether it is a feat, a talent or a spell without being told. Therefore I should underline some of the principles I am trying to stick to when designing talents:

  1. Talents are unique abilities. Talents are the sort of tricks that can only be pulled off by those that have the Talent. If the advantage conferred by a talent could feasibly be performed by anyone then chances are it isn’t a talent: it’s a feat, or maybe even a skill. Obviously, magic can duplicate most things, and a high level wizard may have a spell that does the same damage as a dragonborn’s dragon breath. Magic has succeeded in duplicating certain abilities of other classes in all editions (except perhaps 4e). It will in HD&D as well. We’ll save a discussion of the limitations and utility of magic for another post.
     
  2. Talents have unlimited uses. By and large, talents should either be continuously active, or available to a character at-will. This is their biggest advantage. The wizard may cast a spell that gives him +2 armour class for the next ten minutes, but the dragonborn has that all the time from his skin. Some talents work more like spells than anything else – the aforementioned Dragon Breath. These would work like spells and have a recharge time. However, talents should only need to be recharged where doing so actually makes sense.
  3. Spells don’t make good talents. In third edition we saw plenty of classes and prestige classes where one of their class abilities was to cast X spell Y times per day. That’s a crummy ability. Talents should not grant the ability to cast certain spells. I don’t want the distinction of the “spell-like ability” that we had in third edition.
  4. Talents matter at equally all levels. Talents should be written in such a way that they continue to be relevent to the character regardless of level. If the talent deals damage, then that damage increases as the character gains levels. If the talent provides another bonus then it should be a bonus that is just as useful for a 25th level character as it is for a 3rd level character. If talents are too powerful for low level characters then they should have prerequisites indicating the minimum level the talent can be selected.

Where do we find ideas for Talents?

Easy answer: we steal them. If you think about it, we have a phenomenal number of resources. We have all the abilities from the base classes and the prestige classes in third edition, all the extra abilities from the class and race sustitution levels, templates, monsters, bloodlines. There’s also plenty of third edition feats are are actually really talents in disguise and can therefore be converted. And then… there’s all the new fourth edition class abilities, a dash of d20 Modern, d20 Star Wars and even d20 Cthulhu. If necessary we can even go back and plunder the character kits of second edition. It’s not called Hybrid D&D for nothing!

Fourth edition powers may not make the cut; at least not into talents. The problem is that when you boil them down they are all the same: make a certain number of attacks against a certain number of foes, inflict some damage and maybe impose an ongoing effect. They are all so deathly dull! Some might get converted to spells, but they don’t have what it takes to be talents.

Traits

Okay, we understand what talents are. So what are traits? Traits (or Racial Traits to use a more accurate term) are the racial abilities that all races get for free at first level.

At first level, all races get two racial traits. These are abilities that epitomise what it is to be a member of that race. By and large they are unique abilities (such as the dwarf’s Stone Footed Stability), but the one thing they have in common is their power level.

Traits need to balance with one another, so the bar has to be set deliberately low. To put it another way, they can only be as powerful as anyone race’s least powerful ability. That means that any powerful racial ability – even if you might consider it a signature ability, like the dragonborn’s breath – needs to be classified as a Racial Talent instead. It’s all a matter of balance and book keeping. It shouldn’t impact on the character concept. Indeed it might feed into the roleplaying. Why doesn’t this dragonborn have a breath weapon? Why isn’t this hobbit as lucky as his friends?

It’s possible a race may have more than two racial traits available, but the player selects only two at character generation. If this is the case, I may allow the character to take a special feat that allows him to select a third racial talent. Racial Talents are about as powerful as feats, so this would probably balance. However, it should be taken on a case by case basis.

I don’t want the fact that “everyone gets two racial traits” to limit the diversity between races. I also don’t want one race to overshadow, or be overshadowed by, the others. Certain Genasi, for example, can change their elemental manifestation from Air to Earth to Fire to Water. When they do so they lose access to their two racial talents and gain access to two new ones. Still balanced, and yet also very cool for the player.

Feats

I believe that the concept for feats grew out of the second edition character kits. They were your edge, something that made your character just a tiny bit cooler than the next guy. Of course, second edition being second edition kits were just layered on top of everything else with no rhyme or reason. Characters who had kits were inherently better than those that did not. Balance? What’s that?

When I got around to truly modifying AD&D in 1998 (Neo-AD&D) and 1999 (NURPS) I created something that was similar to feats. Third edition took the concept to a whole new level. Suddenly feats were king, the shiniest, most imaginative and most useful addition to the game.

In fourth edition feats have rather lost their lustre. They are of limited use, and simply don’t seem that good any more. This probably explains why so many fourth edition characters have Quick Draw or Improved Initiative. They can’t think of anything else to take.

I want feats in HD&D to be more meaningful. I want them to be exciting, and useful. However, they can’t be too exciting because that’s what the Talents are for. Feats are support abilities, I’ll explain what I mean by that in moment.

Acquiring Feats

In HD&D you gain feats at every even numbered level. So it’s talents at odd numbered levels and feats at each even numbered level. That means you get something at every level – no more dead levels in this version of D&D. In addition to a feat at every even level, you also get a feat at levels 1, 11 and 21. This means that by level thirty you should have eighteen feats.

Consider this. All thirtieth level characters have twenty-one talents, eighteen feats and two racial traits. Is this too much to saddle a character with? Too few? Too complicated? Something to bear in mind as we continue to explore HD&D.

What is a Feat?

Feats don’t give you unique abilities: feats improve the abilities you already have. That statement is key to understanding how feats work in HD&D. All characters have a Reflex Defence, you can choose a feat to make it better. All characters have hit points, you can choose a feat that gives you more hit points. All characters have class skills, you can choose a feat that gives you more class skills.

You won’t find a feat that let’s you breathe fire from your nostrils, change shape or grow an extra elbow. There were feats in third edition that did that (well, maybe not the elbow one). Such weirdo effects will be the province of talents.

Obviously, what feats can do is modify talents. So Dragon Breath is a dragonborn’s racial talent. It does a certain amount of damage, within a certain area; the damage scales as the dragonborn gains levels. The dragonborn can also choose from a host of feats that modify his dragonbreath in some fashion. They might increase the area of effect, allow the dragonborn to breathe a different type of energy, increase the damage of the attack and so on.

Broadly there are four types of feats:

  1. General Feats. These are feats that can be taken by anyone as long as they meet the prerequisites.
  2. Class Feats. Feats that can only be taken by members of a certain class. These feats would tend to be the ones that augment talents unique to that class.
  3. Racial Feat. As with class feats, you need to be a certain race to select these feats. The feats that modify a dragonborn’s Breath are good examples of these.
  4. Multiclass Feats. We’ll get onto these in a later post. Suffice to say you need to select a multiclass feat in order to be able to choose talents and feats of another class.

And there you have it. That’s the difference between talents, traits and feats. I hope that’s clear. In the second part of this post I’m going to go over how talents, traits and feats are presented in HD&D and how to read their entries. You’ll need to know this before we get onto races and classes proper.

Consistant Formatting

One of the things I like about fourth edition is the colour coding that it uses to distinguish between powers and other facets of the game. If you see something in red you know it’s an encounter power, if it’s in orange then you know it’s a magical item. I’m going to keep the idea, but change what the colours represent – just to confuse you.

I have wrestled with the best way to present half finished rules to you. WordPress doesn’t quite have the formatting options that I need to make them sufficiently pretty. So downloads in this post, as well as the races in the next, will be uploaded to the blog as PDF documents. I hope that’s not too fiddly for you.

Here’s the PDF of the colour coding.

Where possible, I am going to set out each of these facets of the game in the same format. Traits, Talents, Feats, Spells and Magic Items use many of the same descriptors and so it makes sense to present them in the same consistant fashion. Everything is going to be a lot wordier than fourth edition, but hopefully clearer than third edition. Some facets of the game (like Skills) don’t helpfully lend themselves to the same format, but I will still try to make them as consistant as possible.

It is far easier to show you what I mean than explain here. So here’s my equivalent of the “Reading Powers” section from the fourth edition Player’s Handbook.

Reading Powers

In this instance, “powers” means most of the options available to your character, be they racial traits, talents, feats, magic items, spells and so on. I know, I need a better name. Suggestions are welcome.

Anyway, all these elements use the same keywords and are indexed and presented in the same consistant fashion. They are also colour-coded (see above). First of all I’ll break down all the headings and explain what they mean, and then I’ll present an example gestalt ability that makes use of all of them. Are we ready?

Name and Type

This is the colour-coded band that includes the name of the feat/spell/trait etc. on the left, and the type of “power” on the right. So, if it’s a racial trait not only will the bar be in Sea Green, but it’ll also tell you that it’s a racial trait in the right-hand column.

Descriptive Text

I dislike the term flavour-text as it implies the content here is not relevent to the use of the power, and can therefore be skipped. I assure you that is not the case in HD&D. While the information here somewhat ressembles the fourth edition presentation (it’s in itallics and filled with light grey), it is very important to convey the nature of the power.

The entries here are longer than in 4e, and should  flowery and evocative language. The descriptive text simply explains how the power works in words, without referencing game mechanics.

Nature of the Power

This is the part of a 4e power than would tell you if the power was At-Will, Encounter or Daily. In HD&D the descriptors are: Continuous Effect, At-Will and Recharge.

Continuous Effect: This describes a power that is always active regardless of what the character does. A dragonborn’s bonus to his armour class is a continuous effect. Feats and talents often confer continuous effects.

At-Will: These are abilities that are not always on, but can be called upon whenever they are required. Characters usually need to make a conscious decision to use an at-will ability. Many talents provide you with at-will abilities.

Recharge: Once you have used a recharge power it cannot be used again until you take a short rest. In this way they greatly ressemble 4e’s Encounter powers. Most spells are recharge powers, but some talents (like a dragonborn’s breath weapon) are also recharge powers. Some powers will have the moniker Recharge (Special). That means that the recharge time is not one short rest. Often they are used for abilities that be used more than once before they need to be recharged, but can be used less frequently than At-Wills.

Following the frequency of use, is a diamond (or similar wingding – we can have a poll if you really want). Then there is a list of descriptors that should be familiar to fourth and third edition players. These decriptors help to tell us more about the nature of the power.

Firstly, we reveal if the power is Mundane (a natural, non-magical ability), Magical (uses the Weave) or Supernatural (isn’t natural, but doesn’t use the Weave). If the power is magical, then the school of magic is also listed in parenthesis (Abjuration, Conjuration, Divination, Enchantment, Evocation, Illusion, Necromancy or Transmutation). At the moment, I don’t see a case for all the sub-schools that third edition had. I can be convinced, however.

The remaining descriptors are listed alphabetically. At the moment I have compiled the following: Acid, Air, Cold, Darkness, Earth, Fear, Fire, Force, Implement, Language-Dependent, Light, Lightning, Mind-Affecting, Necrotic, Radiant, Thunder, Water. Feel free to suggest more or demand less.

Caster

This only applies to spells. It gives you the name of the class that can cast the spell, and the level of the spell. If more than one class has access to this spell then all spells are listed. This is just like in third edition. So a spell might be “Wizard 1, Cleric 2”, for example.

Whether we include the full class name or simply an abbreviation largely depends on how many different spell-casting classes we have, and how easy the abbreviations are to remember.

Action Type

This is emboldened and tells you what type of action you must take to use the power. This is heavily based on the fourth edition combat system. However, it’s my initial intention to get rid of Minor actions. That way each character just has two actions in a round: a Standard Action and a Move Action. That’s two choices instead of three, which should speed combat up a tad. I’ll talk about the removal of the Minor action at length later, so please don’t get too het up about it now. The different actions are as follows:

Standard Action: This is the meat of your character’s actions. Most recharge powers are standard actions. Making an attack roll against a foe is also a standard action.

Move Action: You use a move action to move up to speed in feet; to crawl, climb or swim at half your speed; to run at increasingly dangerous paces; to withdraw safely from combat. Instead of a move action, you can opt to take a Move Equivalent Action. This is something else that takes a small amount of time. This might include opening a door, drinking a potion, drawing a weapon and so on.

Normally you have two actions in a round: one standard action and one move (or move equivalent) action. You can trade down. You can take a second move action instead of your standard action, but you can’t take a second standard action in place of your move action. This should all be very familiar to third and fourth edition players.

In addition to these two actions, there are others that may come into play:

No Action: The power just goes off without expending any of your actions. This may or may not happen on your turn depending on the circumstacnes. Most of these types of powers are continuously active. Speaking a few words is no action.

Free Action: This is an action that happens on your turn. There is no limit to the number of free actions that you can have in a round (at the GM’s discretion of course). Dropping an item is a free action.

Quickened Action: This is an extra action that you get to take on your turn.  Normally you don’t get quickened actions except in very specific circumstances. It works a bit like a free action, but it allows you to do something more significant. You can only have one quickened action per round.

Immediate Reaction: This is an extra action you take in response to a triggering event. It counts as your quickened action for the round, so you can’t do it if you’ve already had a quickened action.

Immediate Interrupt: This is an extra action you take in advance of a triggering event. It counts as your quickened action for the round, so you can’t do it if you’ve already had a quickened action.

Special: A special action usually takes longer than one round to use. The length of time is placed in parenthesis. Normally, this is reserved for spells with a casting time of greater than one standard action. For example, Contact Other Plane might have Special (5 hours) on this line.

Trigger

If necessary, the text mentions how your Immediate Reaction or Immediate Interrupt is triggered.

Prerequisite/Requirement

This is only included if approrpiate. Some talents and feats might have prerequisites you must have to be able to select the power. Some talents might only work in specific circumstances (e.g. you must be bloodied). All that is put in this line.

Duration

If the power has a duration then it is listed here. The duration is either “instantaneous” or an amount of time measured in rounds, minutes, hours or days. “Encounter” is not a duration in HD&D.

Area of Effect

This combines the area affected by the power, and the range at which the power can be used. Normally, ranges are expressed in feet. The options here are:

Personal: Affects only the caster or initiator of the power.

Mêlée : You must strike your foe to activate the power. This applies to powers that use weapon or touch attacks that are discharged through a target. Mêlée powers can normally be used on the caster.

Ranged: A ranged attack targets a single foe at distance. Attacks such as a magic missile or a bow shot fall into this category.

Close Blast: This is an attack that targets individuals in mêlée range of the caster, and out to a certain range indictated in the text. The text will also state what shape the burst takes. For example, a dragonborn’s breath is described as Close Burst (Cone) 15 ft. I’ll get onto cones, spheres, cylinders and walls in a later post.

Close Burst: This is an attack that affects all targets within a certain radius of the caster, but not (usually) the caster himself. The radius is described in feet.

Ranged Blast: This is a distant attack that originates from a point indicated by the caster and erupts in a certain direction. It can also be described as a cone, line, cylinder or whatever have you. The description will include the dimensions of the blast and the maxmimum distance of the origin point. For example, a Flame Strike might be Ranged Blast (Cylinder) 5 ft radius, within 100 ft.

Ranged Burst: This is a distant attack that originates from a point indicated by the caster and affects all individuals within a certain radius. Obviously, fireball is the quintessential ranged burst power. It would be described as the ranged blast – e.g.  Ranged Burst 10 ft rd, within 100 ft.

Target

This simply states who in the area of effect are actually affected by the power. If the Area of Effect is “Personal” then the Target is “You” by default. HD&D keeps the 4e distinction between allies, enemies and creatures as viable targets.

Attack

If appropriate, this will tell you the sum for skill versus defence. For example, a phantasmal killer would be Arcana vs Will. A swing of a longsword would be Weapon Group (Heavy Blades) vs Relfex.

Miss

If the power does anything if you miss, then I say so here.

Effect

By far the biggest box (and also in a fetching grey), this describes the power in terms of game mechanics. There is no damage line as there is in the description of 4e powers. The amount of damage the power does (if any) is simply in this body of text.

It is wordier than a 4e power description and with good reason. The descriptions of fourth edition powers have a terribly soporific effect on the reader. They are really, really dull.

Components

Normally this is only required for spells, but if there are any consumables required in the use of the power, then we say so here.

Market Price

If the description is of an item or a spell then it will also have a market price in gold pieces.

Example Spell

So throw all these together and what do we have? Here is a nonsense spell that uses all of the categories listed above. It would be very unusual for any power to use them all.

Soup Strike

Next

That should have told you everything you need to know about Talents, Traits and Feats. Next we return to Character Races for full starting stats for the Human, Elf, Dwarf, Dragonborn and Tiefling.